The Magic of Florence

Lisbon to Florence

What can be said about Florence that hasn’t been already imbibed by hundreds of others over the centuries? There is simply no other city like it. There are great cities, wonderful cities, fucking stellar cities all over the world, and Florence will always rank in the top echelons for me. What is it? The food, the architecture, the history, the narrow streets, the strong cafe culture… the list goes on and on. I think in essence, Florence is a feeling. Having recently arrived from Portugal, I was feeling quite fond of Lisbon. The seaside city had all of the things I’ve just mentioned. A rich history, quant cafes, the European feel without the overdone trite Disney-fied vibes. I have an inkling that I could live in Lisbon, and that I will enjoy visiting Lisboa for many years to come. I had not been back to Tuscany since 2016. I remember being enthralled with my time here. but there was only so much time and so many other destinations…and then there was covid and by that time I had discovered South America and began a torrid affair with the Latin world. This run over the pond I ended up here almost by accident.

will never look like this during the summer season

Stepping off the plane, the airport is provincial and a bit shabby. My taxi was a Prius piloted by an intense elderly woman with a heavy foot and an even heavier brake. She apologized profusely as the rate for Sunday fares from the airport are an additional 2 euro. I consoled her the best I could. I knew there were great things ahead

Panino magic

I would never dream of coming here in peak season. This city is a rather severe experience. Not to be trifled with. Some of these crazed “ tour groups” hit this city like an army of marauding bandits armed with phones/cameras, twisted yelp reviews and “best of guides” to plunder the landscape over only a few hours. Post pillage moving back into their foul caravans en route to yet another destination, molesting an entire country in only a few days. Flying home with stuffed storage, crooked selfies, and plastic souvenirs…liked crazed perverts ready for their next act of debauchery marked as “vacation” to repeat the process a few years later. Just watching them makes me shudder and my lower digestive organs pang with unease.

Pay tribute to these pieces as often and as many times as possible.

This city is like a long lost favorite lover. Preparation is key, patience an absolute necessity. January proves near perfect, the chill in the air drives one to the cafes, cappuccino or Chianti powered afternoons provide the serendipity for wandering the narrow streets and stopping in the small shops, taking in the history and feeling this place that has truly captivated so many before us, and will continue to do long after we are gone. Can you “do” Florence in a few days? Fuck no. Don’t try.

Wander and enjoy

Visit. Relax. Go slow. Savor the moments. Enjoy the flavors. Revel in the art and the history…And promise yourself you will come back.

The New Legend of Lisbon

Okay, as wandering in Western Europe goes, things can be hit or miss.

We are all faced with the conundrum, in the eternal search for authentic travel experiences, but swamped with tens of thousands of tourists all clamoring after the same thing. Countless assholes all seeking that perfect instagram shot as if they weren’t actually there if the ‘gram doesn’t document it. (Of course, I am personally guilty of posting semi regularly to the platform, I have also been one of said assholes). Between the crowds and the queues…the inflated prices and the hawkers one can quickly find a creeping sickening feeling of “what am I doing here”?

Street steps for days

There is a oft bantered phrase of many a guidebook promising “off the beaten path” travel, which in essence doesn’t really mean anything. The term is 1000% subjective. For some you will need to discover a rare cannibal tribe on an uncharted island to check the “off the beaten path” box. For others, a new menu item at a foreign McDonald’s is exotic enough. For this entry I am going to go with the perfect blend. Portugal.

Specifically this go round, the capitol of Lisbon. Now as I write this everyone and their mother is talking about Portugal. Once thought of as

“Europe’s best kept secret” the post covid landscape has ushered this small, affordable yet world class country into the proverbial lime light.

Candle moments

Lisbon has the goods. That euro magic you’re looking for with the quant cafe and friendly shopkeepers, the tile/Cobble stone walkways and the abundance of 18th century architecture, cathedrals and all the rest…it’s here. The prices are great if coming from the midwestern USA, the flight is easy and the weather is damn near perfect.

Saturday book market

Here in mid January Lisbon is bright and brisk which is perfect walking weather… complete with actual sunshine! The best way to explore the city proves on foot over a week or so for the first visit. I’ve come back now a few times and this city grows on me every time. The food is clean, the ocean is never far, and the cafes always invite a smile.

Evening steps

Hotels and apartments can be had in the center for $75-125 USD as of this writing which makes Lisbon extremely competitive on the euro capital scene. With a smattering of new visa options, Portugal has become of keen interest for Americans looking to retire abroad. I keep visiting as I’m strongly considering this option. If given a week to spend in Europe, Lisbon is easily in my top five for capitol cities. I have a feeling I will keep coming back here although as it becomes more popular through posts like this I will invariably move on. I’m okay with this as travel is inherently cyclical, and Lisbon (as well as Portugal as a whole) deserves it’s day.

No Lisbon trip is complete without

This year will be one of adventure. For once this is a dispatch not from Colombia (don’t worry ill be there in a few weeks). Lisbon has proven to be an ideal location to begin this first full year away from the classroom and on the road. Next up I’m making my return to Florence, which I’ve been eager to get back to now for years. Have you been to Portugal? What did you think? Could you imagine retiring here? Please let us know in the comments.

New Year’s resolutions are dumb…but try this out

The benefits of ‘Dry January’ last longer than a month, studies show

People who abstained from alcohol for a month started drinking less the rest of the year and showed striking improvements in their health.

Image without a captionBy Anahad O’Connor

December 27, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EST

From the Washington Post

Every year, tens of thousands of people kick off the new year by taking part in a month-long sobriety challenge known as “Dry January.”

The event is widely viewed as a temporary test of willpower — followed by a return to old drinking habits when the month ends. But according to research, that’s often not what happens.

Get the full experience.Choose your plan

Studies show that people who participate in Dry January and other sobriety challenges frequently experience lasting benefits. Often, they drink less in the long run and make other sustained changes to their drinking habits that lead to striking improvements in their health and well-being.

Looking to try going alcohol-free for 2023? 

Try using habit tracking apps such as Strides or I Am Sober to help you change your behavior and break old routines.

Make complex and balanced mocktails with textured ingredients like sugar, gomme syrup, teas and egg-whites.

Support your sober friends by serving fancy bottled water and plenty of other non-alcoholic beverages when you host.

Read more tips, tricks and recipes for sober living.

End of carousel

So why does Dry January seem to have a lasting effect? A month of sobriety, while it can sound daunting, is not so long that it seems impossible. And yet, it is long enough that it provides opportunities to form new habits — like turning down alcohol in social settings, which in the long run can be empowering. And taking a break from alcohol can trigger immediate health benefits, like weight loss, better sleep, and a boost to your mood and energy levels, which can reinforce the new habit.

Experiencing these improvements, can motivate you to continue drinking less in the long run, said Richard de Visser, a psychologist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England who has studied what happens to people who participate in Dry January.

“It becomes a reinforcing message instead of a punishing message,” he said. “Instead of public health people wagging their fingers and saying, ‘Don’t drink, it’s bad for you,’ people do it and say, ‘I didn’t realize how good I would feel.’ They often don’t realize how much stopping drinking will improve their sleep, or their concentration, or even just their levels of energy in the morning.”

From ‘hazardous’ to ‘low risk’

In one study published in BMJ Open, a team of researchers in London and the United States recruited a group of 94 healthy men and women who were willing to give up alcohol for one month. They compared them to a similar control group of 47 people who continued drinking. Both groups consisted of people who were moderate to heavy drinkers, drinking on average about 2.5 drinks a day.

The researchers found that the people who gave up alcohol for one month had significant improvements in their metabolic health, despite making little or no changes to their diets, smoking or exercise levels. On average they lost about four and a half pounds, their blood pressure dropped, and they had a “dramatic” reduction in their levels of insulin resistance, a marker for Type 2 diabetes risk. They also experienced sharp reductions in cancer-related growth factors — a particularly important finding, the researchers noted, because even low levels of alcohol consumption can increase the risk of many cancers. None of these improvements were seen in the control group.

The researchers followed up with the study participants six to eight months later to see how they were doing. The group that was abstinent for one month had maintained a “significant reduction” in their alcohol consumption, while the control group did not. Using a screening tool that can identify problematic drinking behaviors, the researchers determined that the abstinence group’s drinking habits had changed from “hazardous” to “low-risk,” while the control group’s habits stayed about the same.

Saving money and better sleep

In a separate series of studies, de Visser and his colleagues followed thousands of Dry January participants to see if the challenge would lead to long-lasting changes. They found that in general, people who took part in Dry January were still drinking considerably less the following August.

On average, the number of days on which they drank fell from 4.3 days per week before the challenge to 3.3 days per week a half-year later. The amount that they drank on each occasion fell and they got drunk less frequently.

Before Dry January, they got drunk an average of 3.4 times per month. But by the following August that figure had fallen to 2.1 times per month.

Most people who take part in sobriety challenges return to drinking afterward. But many are surprised by the benefits they experience during their month of abstinence. De Visser and his colleagues found that most of the Dry January participants they studied reported saving money, sleeping better, losing weight, and having more energy and a better ability to concentrate. Most also reported that they felt a sense of achievement and gained more control over their drinking. Even people who did not stay alcohol-free the entire month of January reported these benefits.

“The objective of Dry January is not long-term sobriety — it’s long-term control,” said Richard Piper, the CEO of Alcohol Change UK, a British nonprofit that started the month-long challenge a decade ago. “It’s about understanding your subconscious triggers, overcoming those, and learning how good it is to not drink. It gives you the power of choice for the rest of the year.”

Try these tips to help you succeed

Not everyone tempers their relationship with alcohol after trying a month-long sobriety challenge. In his studies, de Visser and his colleagues found that a small proportion of people who participate in Dry January — about 11 percent — experience a rebound effect where they end up consuming more alcohol in the months that follow.

These tend to be particularly heavy drinkers who are dependent on alcohol. For that reason, it’s important that people who take part in these challenges recognize that they are not a silver bullet for everyone who wants to stop drinking. The Rethinking Drinking website has a list of helpful resources. “If you do have a problematic pattern of drinking, you should talk to a health-care professional and do it with some support, so you don’t have a negative experience that makes it worse,” said de Visser.

Last year, 130,000 people globally signed up to participate in Dry January. Here are some tips that could increase your odds of success.

  • Do it with a friend. Sign up for it on the Alcohol Change UK website and download the free Try Dry app on your smartphone. In his studies, de Visser and his colleagues found that people were more likely to succeed at the challenge if they had social support or tracked their progress through the app. You can also sign up to get “coaching” emails from Alcohol Change UK that will cheer you on throughout January. “The social support helps because it gives you a sense of belonging to a bigger thing,” he said. “But there’s also the practical aspect of people saying, ‘Hey, try this if you’re craving alcohol. Here’s what I did that worked.’”
  • Find a new favorite drink.Swapping an alcoholic beverage for a nonalcoholic one — like sparkling water with lemon or a splash of cranberry juice — could help you eliminate mindless drinking. “A lot of people drink by habit or default simply because it’s what they’re used to doing,” says Piper.
  • Manage your triggers. Instead of meeting your friend at a bar after work, suggest going to a movie, taking a long walk, or having dinner at a restaurant instead.
  • Track how much money you save. The Try Dry app can motivate you by tracking all the money you didn’t spend on drinks.
  • Try the Dry(ish) January challenge. If going completely sober for the month of January is out of the question, then do something more attainable through Sunnyside, a mindful drinking program. Sunnyside has an app that allows you to create your own variation of Dry January, a.k.a. Dry(ish) January. You can set goals like not drinking on weekdays, or cutting your weekly alcohol consumption in half, and then track your progress. You can also use it year-round to track your alcohol intake and create healthier drinking habits.

Do you have a question about healthy eating? Email EatingLab@washpost.comand we may answer your question in a future column.

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Well+Being shares news and advice for living well every day. Sign up for our newsletter to get tips directly in your inbox.

Body: What’s the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19? You don’t have to worry about your stomach exploding if you overeat. For some with ADHD, brown noise quiets the brain.

Life: The Well+Being gift guide has our picks for the body, mind, pets and more. These five tips from experts can help students take a mental health break from college. What to feed and not feed pets from holiday dishes.

Food: Diet changes can improve sleep apnea, even without weight loss. Fiber alters the microbiome and may boost cancer treatment. How to support your sober friends when everyone is drinking.

Fitness: Dogs and humans both can get dementia, and more walks can help. Pickleball is popular, but how much exercise are you really getting? This is the speedy scientific workout you can do almost anywhere.

Mind: Tips for parents to help teens struggling with mental health issues. Want to feel happier? Try snacking on joy. Three ways to fix sleep issues when nothing else works.

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Feel Fucking Great

50 ways to be ridiculously generous—and feel ridiculously good.

I realized—many years ago—that when I behave generously, I feel rich. I like to feel rich. So I choose to be generous.

Behaving generously doesn’t necessarily mean “donating money” or “giving away your last cookie.” Those are two options, sure, but there are plenty of other ways to be generous.

You can share knowledge freely, instead of hoarding it. You can send a handwritten note, instead of a text message. You can make eye contact, instead of checking out and staring down at your phone. You can introduce a friend to someone they ought to meet and help them secure a new job, client, or opportunity. You can do big things, simple things, all kinds of things.

Here are 50 ways to be ridiculously generous—and feel ridiculously good.

The best part is, you don’t need to “prepare.” You don’t have to “buy anything.” You don’t need to “give it some thought.” You don’t have to “clear space on your calendar.” You just need to fold a little generosity into your day—which often takes just a minute or two.

The tiniest act of generosity can change someone’s day—or even change their whole life.

Here are 50 possibilities to inspire you. You could do one item from this list every day, 50 days in a row. It’s going to feel so good. And you’re about to become everyone’s favorite person.

1. Give a compliment to three strangers: a child, someone your own age, and an elder. Try to share a compliment that’s not related to their body or physical appearance. Instead, praise their inner qualities and skills. Say, “You’re amazing at riding that tricycle!” “You have the most calming voice. I could listen to you speak all day long.” “You inspire me to be more courageous.”

2. Find a Little Free Library near you and donate a book. Can’t find one? Start one.

3. That public radio station or podcast you’ve been streaming for months—or years? Become a member and contribute monthly to keep the programming going. Don’t put it off. While you’re at it, send a praise-filled email to the host or production team.

4. Find a blogger who’s been slammed with cruel, vicious comments lately. Send them an email. Say something kind. Encourage them to keep writing.

5. Choose a local show (improv, stand-up comedy, indie rock), convince a bunch of friends to buy tickets, and go see it. It can be an in-person show or a virtual show. Turn off your phones and give these performers your complete, undivided attention. Applaud vigorously. Make these hardworking performers feel like the superstars that they are.

6. Choose a struggling (or not-so-struggling) artist and publicly thank them for adding beauty and inspiration to the world. Post a positive review online. Mention them in your newsletter. Or send a personal note to say, “I love your work. Please keep going.”

7. Choose a big-name celebrity that you admire and write them a genuine, heartfelt letter of thanks. Just to say, “Your work really moves me, and I appreciate what you do.” Send this note with no strings attached and no expectation of a reply. Purely just to say thank you.

8. If you see a couple—and they’re trying to take a selfie of themselves while on a romantic date or trip—ask, “Would you like me to take that photo for you?” Offer to help. Capture the moment. Extra credit: ask, “How did you two meet?” and give them an opportunity to tell you their love story.

9. Send a bouquet of flowers to someone you love—to celebrate something specific or for no particular reason at all. It’s old-school and always a classic. Alternate ideas: send a potted plant rather than cut flowers, send a pizza delivery, or make a contribution to a great cause in their honor.

10. Sponsor a local yoga class. Buy 10 or 20 spots and give them away. You can give out passes to friends, colleagues, neighbors, or strangers. Or tell the studio, “The next 20 people who come in can take class for free. I’d like to pay for their spot in advance.” Yoga for everybody!

11. Tell a teenager: “You are so brilliant. I can’t wait to see who you become. And I love who you are right now.”

12. Tell your mom (or someone who feels like your mom): “You raised me right. Here is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from you: _______________.” [fill in the blank]

13. Tell your dad (or someone who feels like your dad): “You’ve given me so many gifts. Like the ability to _______________. Thank you.” [fill in the blank]

14. Be like Diane von Furstenberg and start your day by sending out one email specifically designed to help somebody else—without directly benefiting you at all—before you do anything else. Make introductions, send encouragement, offer a helpful resource or link.

15. Go through your closet and donate items to Dress For Success—or its equivalent in your country. You’ll declutter your wardrobe and help a job seeker feel more confident at their next interview.

16. Put away your phone and close down your inbox for a day—or even just an hour. Give the world the gift of your undivided, non-digital attention.

17. Experiment with Tonglen meditation: inhale suffering (yours and others), exhale compassion (for the whole world).

18. Tip generously. Not sure how much? This is how much. Except double it.

19. Record an audio message for someone you’ve been meaning to thank for a while. Text it to them and tell them: “Keep this audio note and play it whenever you’re doubting your awesomeness.”

20. Buy a coffee or meal for a stranger and start a magical chain reaction.

21. Do somebody else’s laundry. Or give someone a gift card for a laundry service so they can outsource this task. Brighten their day and ask for nothing in return. (They might weep with gratitude.)

22. Turn a photo from your smartphone into a real postcard. Send it.

23. Give someone a grrrrreat massage. Here’s how.

24. When a friend tells you a piece of good news, respond with sincere enthusiasm. Make a fuss over them and say, “This is amazing news. We need to celebrate!” Whether it’s a new job, big client, moving to a new home, or something else, plan a celebration for your friend and do something to mark the moment. (Often, we rush through life so quickly and forget to take time to pause and acknowledge our victories. Helping a friend celebrate is such a generous gesture.)

25. Overwhelmed with too many things to read? Instead of canceling your newspaper or magazine subscriptions, donate them to a local school for a few months until you’re ready to start receiving them again.

26. Waiting in line? Strike up a conversation with somebody who looks bored, numb, or checked out. Start by asking: “What was the best part of your day?”

27. Applying for a job? Trying to woo a client? Or make a friend? Send them something helpful and astonishingly generous—before asking for anything. (Here’s an example.)

28. Create a generous “auto-responder” (sometimes called an “out-of-office” message or “vacation auto-reply” message) for your email—full of links, resources, fun videos, answers to commonly asked questions, a complimentary gift, or whatever else you want to include. This is an easy way to offer people something inspiring, entertaining, and helpful (or all of the above!) automatically. They can enjoy the cool stuff while they await your reply. (Want to see some creative examples? Check this out.)

29. Buy a massage for a veteran of war. Just contact a massage therapist, make a payment, and then contact your local veteran’s health administration and pass along the details.

30. Reach out to a friend who’s been having a rough time. Say, “I know you’re dealing with a lot right now. I’d like to do something to make your life a tiny bit easier—to provide some relief. Here are 3 things I could do for you: (1) _________ (2) _________ (3) _________. Please let me know if you’d like 1, 2, or all 3. It would bring me joy to do this.”

Fill in the blanks with things you’d be willing to do, such as cooking a meal, babysitting the kids, driving them to a doctor’s appointment, cleaning (or sending a housekeeper over to tidy up their home), or whatever you want to do.

Note: instead of asking, “What can I do to help you? Please tell me what you need,” provide 2-3 options and ask your friend to pick what they want. This might be less overwhelming for your friend and can make it easier for them to accept help.

31. Make a playlist of uplifting music. Title your playlist: “Music to create hope,” “Music for motivation,” or “Listen to this when you want to feel lifted and inspired.” Share the playlist with a few friends, colleagues at work, or one special person in your life.

32. Pick your favorite small business, service provider, or freelancer who’s incredible at what they do. Tell 3 friends about them. Say, “You need to hire this person. You will be so happy you did.” Send new business their way. They’ll be so delighted!

33. Leave a wrapped gift on top of your trash can with a note for your friendly neighborhood waste disposal professional. Or leave an envelope with a cash tip. They deal with unspeakable filth, every week, all for YOU.

34. Brew a big pot of coffee. Fill up some eco-friendly cups. Offer free coffee to joggers who are going by your home, or to everyone at work, or to everyone at the bus stop, etc.

35. Buy a gift for a total stranger. (Search wishlists here.)

36. Four words: gourmet ice cream delivery. Three more words: cookie dough delivery.

37. Choose a friend. Grab a blank notebook. (Or this book.) Fill the book with love notes and compliments written by you and by other people, too. Give it to your friend. Now they have an entire book filled with reasons why they are awesome. They can flip through this book any time they’re feeling down.

38. If you have a colleague who is self-employed, encourage them to charge more. Tell them, “You provide incredible value. You deserve to be paid what you’re worth. I think you should raise your rates. If that’s something you want to do—I’d love to help you do it.” If they’re open to it, help them brainstorm, strategize, and figure out a plan to roll out the new (higher) pricing.

39. Leave a platter of homemade treats in the common area of your office or apartment building. Extra credit: provide a list of ingredients (for folks who have food sensitivities).

40. Pray for someone. If you don’t pray: send love.

41. Nominate someone for an award—and then cross your fingers and hope that they win! Such as: The Webby Awards, The Stevie Awards, a Book Award, The Black Podcasting Awards, The BEQ Pride Trailblazer Award, The National Small Business Award, or a local award in your city, state, or region. You could also make up an award (such as, “Best Dog Walker of the Century”) and present it to someone you love.

42. Help someone land their dream job or dream client. Tell them, “I’d love to proofread your resume and check for typos.” “Would you like me to take a quick look at that email before you send it?” “Want to borrow my lucky blazer for your interview?” Tell them, “You’ve got this.”

43. Volunteer to mentor an aspiring entrepreneur through your local SCORE chapter. (You don’t have to be an “expert” or know “everything.” You just have to know a few things—enough to help someone get started on their journey.

44. Go to the art supply/craft section of a local shop and leave a note that says, “Your art makes the world more beautiful.” The right person will find it, exactly when they need it.

45. Leave a rave review for your favorite podcast, your favorite book, your favorite product, your favorite anything. Five stars!

46. Arrange a luxurious gift for a public school teacher. A concert pass. A nice bottle of wine. They work incredibly hard for incredibly low pay. Send some love.

47. Plan a weekly co-working session and invite a friend to join you (either online or in-person). Tell them, “Let’s get together, once a week, and use this time to work on our goals.” Use this time to write your novel, finish your dissertation, map out your marketing plan, onboard new clients, declutter your home, whatever you want to accomplish. This will be hugely beneficial for you—and your friend, too. They’ll be grateful that you took the initiative to plan this weekly get-it-done date.

48. Ask someone, “How are you doing—really?” Give them the opportunity to share what’s really going on. Listen without interrupting. Give them the gift of your presence and attention.

49. Set a boundary and actually enforce it. This might be, “Actually, I don’t work on weekends.” “No, I don’t offer discounts for my services.” “I’m not available to meet until 2 weeks from now.” “My phone will be off for the rest of the day.” “I can deliver this project next Friday, but not before then.” Why is it generous to enforce a boundary? Because when someone witnesses you doing this, they will realize, “I can do this, too.” They’ll be inspired by your behavior and feel permission to set their own healthy boundaries, too. You’re leading by example.

50. Start this 50-day cycle of generosity all over again. Just because you can.

About the Author

Alexandra Franzen (who goes by “Alex”) is a best-selling author, award-winning editor, and entrepreneur based in Hawaii. She’s the co-founder of Get It Done. In addition, she works as a copywriter for top brands. She has written six books including two novels, and has contributed to Time, Forbes, Newsweek, and Lifehacker.

Her work has been mentioned in The New York Times Small Business Blog, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, Inc., and she once appeared on the Peabody Award-winning radio show, Marketplace.

Alex deleted all of her social media accounts 8 years ago. She’s known for writing essays on technology, mental health, and why we all need to unplug more. If you’re self-employed and curious about quitting social media (or want to cut back and use it less), check out The Marketing Without Social Media Course, which includes 100 ways to find clients/customers without social media.

www.AlexandraFranzen.com

www.YouCanGetItDone.com

www.MarketingWithoutSocialMedia.com

The Hungry Ghost of Colombia

Yes, i know, im just about to go to bed. Before I go… I’m here in Bogota, where a big hotel suite and crisp air combined with overcast skies and strong coffee seem to juice the mojo and inspire me to hit the keyboard. How do I end up here so often? I feel like the “hungry ghost” mentioned by the late Bourdain. I wander these cities, some more than others in search of something. At times I return again and again to haunt these areas, leaving pieces of myself behind. As i turn the idea over in my mind (always at night and when alone) I stumble on bits of clues as to why I do it. I am searching for authenticity. Authentic experiences, authentic interaction. I need the real. I am addicted to it. Hence why you will never see me haunting a cruise ship or an all inclusive resort. I can read a brochure and know exactly what that entails. I need something else. a kind of adventure, a kind of lust, a big fat fucking jump out of the comfort zone. Colombia in almost any iteration is dangerous. You absolutely NEED to be aware of your surroundings. As I talk to a range of people here though they say its gotten exceptionally better over the last decade.

I was never drawn to the easy places. London, Paris, Barcelona…all amazing cities in their own right with rich heritage and all quite easy to be robbed in, but also choked with loud tourists, selfies sticks and the circus that goes along with it. I don’t haunt those places, I only visit from time to time, typically for a long layover. Often to confirm my suspicions. I have a deep seated affection for visiting a place with no preconceived positive connotation and letting that place blast me with the magic. I have yet to fully unravel the mystery that lands me in certain places again and again. I can feel the urge to return. I think if I had to guess this would boil down to two primary things. People and food. the building blocks of any destination. Latin people, and the ingenuity they invest into their food/passion simply can not be overlooked, or god forbid ignored. I’ve been coming to Colombia for five years now and feel as if each city is its own country. from the coastal spots to the inner mountainous region, its really between Medellin and Bogota for me. I’ve not spent nearly as much time in Medellin as I have Bogotá simply because I have more people in Bogota and the flights go on sale more often. Each time I see fares under $300.00 I grab at least one. Sometimes up to a year in advance. “Colombia next year for a week”? of course. i’ll make it work. “Better buy two” The addiction for travel works like bread coupons, one can never have enough tickets to the promised land.

I am so moved by the people here, by the heaviness of their situation, that I started a non profit foundation this year to support the people escaping Venezuela into neighboring Colombia. Right now we are focused on artists and supporting their work but will soon expand. Knowing how my mind works, we named this effort The Andino Foundation. The Andes region encompasses Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This gives me fertile ground to roam and search, finding the good stuff while I hopefully leave the world a bit of a better than when I found it. I have yet to grow tired of wandering. Perhaps I will slow down one day, but in the immediate future, I’m thinking quite the opposite. I’ve been so many places that have the magic, How could I not dig into these locales to the utmost extent?

The Grit

Well this is a whopping pain in the ass. I packed my gear and headed to a Starbucks here in Bogota. I know I know, how could I patronize the evil empire cause their all big and corporate and stuff. Well amidst all the evil they typically have good Wi-Fi, low chances of stabbing and despite being the coffee capital of the world, I was hankering for a chai. This location is a 10 minute walk from my spot and I decided to go. At times I dig their clever furniture and amazing views from their key locations. This time though I arrive, feeling an urge to get some things out, the overcast skies and some recent events inspiring me to hit the keyboard…But the fight with Starbucks is watching all the seats disappear while you order and wait for your beverage. Found a great spot on the third floor with a view of the park, and then…no Wi-Fi. No Starbucks network, shit just vanished. 

I venture to the second floor believing it to be a signal issue. I ask the girl at a nearby table if her Starbucks works in my toddler Spanish, and she says yes it works fine. Well shit. Mine still isn’t here. Give it five minutes, sip that dirty chai, feel that explosive rocket fuel caffeine begin to coarse through your veins like a super power.

Ah! We have arrived! Just when I began to feel a heartbeat behind my eyes the Wi-Fi network mystically appeared and we are good to roll! The network is snappy and seems stable. In our modern dopamine soaked culture its always interesting to be unplugged for a few hours/days, venturing into the unknown while the world stays plugged in. What are they saying about you? Who’s liked your cat photo, who’s talking shit about your bathing suit pic from 5 years again?!?! These mysteries need answering, and they need them now! Except they down. You reconnect and get 3-5 junk notifications (thank god a FB. Garage sale is happening near my home 5,000 miles away, what if I had missed that?!?!

I’ve wandered far and wide in this post and you might be wondering what the hell the title means. Well let me tell you. In short my thesis is that solo travel teaches you grit. That’s important because grit is absolutely unequivocally important in your life. Grit is what gets you there. Facing the fear of the unknown, and pushing ahead regardless. In a place like Bogotá you are surrounded by so much grit. Every hour off every day.  From the guy who commutes 2 hours each way to his serving gig, to the hotel staff that continually put in 12 hour days. When I get the opportunity to chat with these folks they rarely if ever complain, they are raising families, stretching budgets, dealing with heartbreak and unimaginable exhaustion. They could lay out their trials and tribulations all day, instead they invariably always tell me about their dreams. I soak it up and carry it with me all day, all week, and all the way home. I LOVE  chatting about dreams and goals and ambitions. To me that’s the lifeblood of the human experience . Dreams take grit, and Bogota is saturated with it. 

Cafe days in the midst of meltdown

During the height of the pandemic a new bit verbiage emerged to describe being under lockdown and looking at social media feeds everyday. “Doom scrolling” is the term used to describe watching the world meltdown from your phone screen. The ice caps are melting, the penguins are dying, the oceans are full of trash, there is a raging mystery virus etc. holy shit was the news a depressing place to be. And then we ‘moved on.’. The optimism hit a bump and people began mentioning a return to “normalcy” although we weren’t quite sure what that might look like these days. Just as some grains of hope began to fall from the heavens, 20222 dragged us down into a tomb to beat our kidneys with old raggedy bowling pins. Russia has invaded Ukraine… Mass graves are being discovered, millions of people are fleeing to nearby countries, and inflation has come to grind the average American under a rarely understood economic jackboot. Things are looking desperate all over the world. Food prices skyrocketing, possible nuclear warfare, the stock market has been shredded to bloody bits and is now attracting flies. The Crypto bros are in desperate need of new underwear to survive the month, and home buyers are being squeezed by nosebleed prices plus higher interest rates.

Slow down and smell the flowers from time to time

So what is to be done?!

Right this minute? Not much. Remember this too shall pass. Off all the geopolitical situations I may read about on a daily basis I can control approximately 0% of them. I’m not saying become an apathetic shit head, or that we have no agency, but there askew things in your direct, intentional life that you CAN control and that will have a direct positive impact on your life. If the news is freaking you out and making you run for a Xanax drip….stop reading it for a while. Take a walk. Take a detox from social media…Take a Fucking breathe. A ball of anxious frustration about the possible future does you and those around you absolutely no good. Like I said before, this too she pass. Stick to your plan. If your plan needs to adapt, then make the necessary changes. I walked to a cafe here in Bogotá where I enjoy the chai latte, and they have an abundance of plants. I walked a mile or so, pondered a few of life’s damnable questions then sat down to unpack some of this shit through words. I know shit is crazy out there, but there are also unabashedly amazing things too. No one I know has been burned at that that stake for witchcraft lately, people are living longer, there is no Spanish Inquisition, we can cook food by frying fucking air…these things are giant leaps over our previous experience here on earth. Remember that before 1800 not a single country on earth had a life expectancy over 40. THINK about that. No grand parents and very few parents. You’d be more concerned with plague or famine anyway.

Find some green spaces

What I’m saying is you can still embrace optimism, and yield it like a secret super weapon. Optimism is like the force, don’t give into the doom. Become an optimistic Jedi.

Thank you

Back to Bogotá

…and here we are once again. Rainy days in the Colombian capital. moody mountain views and distant thunder. Strong dark coffee is perfect to fight the afternoon nap feelings. I arrived back in Bogota around 10:30 pm, cleared customs quick, the line was light, and full of edgy defense contractors and people visiting family. I had a contact come and grab me for the very reasonable sum of 30,000 pesos. The car was tiny and possibly a Chinese knock off of a South Korean model. Crammed into the front as non official taxis are a legal grey area we sped toward the pink zone, AKA Zona Rosa, one of the more unlikely places for gringo stabbings in the city. The driver was from Medellin, a born Paisa. We talked about how the food was better was there, Bogota was a bit cold, and Cartagena too damn hot. A very similar conversation I have with most Paisa’s I encounter in Bogota.

This mission was different, I had returned to the city laden with precious cargo. turns out the pure orgiastic consumer haven that is the United States consumes quantities of high end electronics like the world might soon end. Always onto whatever the newest item might be, north Americans fiendishly devour it. easy credit terms, lay-away, buy now, pay later, damn the consequences, we must have it! This means that all the slightly used gadgets plummet in value…until you relocate them to countries with a much different GDP.

My goal here was simple. After coming here a half dozen times and getting a feel for the country and the people here, I had started a non profit foundation, an organization to facilitate the repurposing of said electronics to this market, and repurposing them, then using the funds to help the most disadvantaged folks here. Enter the Venezuelan diaspora. I will write more about all of these efforts later. ( I know, I know, I NEED to write MORE). I can only put proverbial pen to paper when the mood strikes. Often times writing is cathartic for me, the mood strikes during times of elation, and times of eminent peril. Looking at the news headlines so far this year things are looking mighty grim. Thus perhaps the words will flow.

So here I am in Bogota, collecting stories, watching the rain, pondering my role in this big twisted red brick drenched place. I have two weeks here, and I return again next month. Continually scratching at the surface. Making a small difference here and there, hoping it makes a slight positive dent in peoples lives. I know at least some of them find my attempts at the Spanish language mixed with sign language humorous. Sometimes sharing a meal with someone, and laughing a bit is best kind of impact to have.

Bogotá in the Rain

Holy shit it’s November. I’m 24 hours returned from Bogotá and Colombia is on my mind. What is it about this place? After venturing there the first time, I knew the world simply wouldn’t be the same. For the Midwestern American imagination Colombia stirs up exotic and dangerous stories. I suppose that’s why I had to go.

The stories I have encountered there keep me coming back, as often as possible. Stories of triumph, stories of despair. Realising that there are countless questions, and no easy answers. Carrying those questions with me back to the states over the years has changed me. Travel will often do that. Our very psyche must expand to accommodate new experiences and once it does, there is no going back. You can feel your previous notions creak and fracture with these new voyages. Over time they will blown apart as the former completely yields to the way things are now.

There are a few places on this stunning planet that have had this definitive impact on me, and Colombia is one of them. I have begun to untangle these stories and sort them into what they mean. Even writing about this place has its kinds of fits and starts. Now that its snowing and a touch unforgiving outside here, the time has come to write it out.

More to come soon.

On Getting Robbed While Traveling (Madrid Edition)

I was robbed in Madrid. Not in a fearsome my life was in danger way, but in a ” wait, where the fuck is my wallet?” kind of way. It sucked. What I want to share with you are a few insights to help your experience suck less should it happen to you.

I know, everyone has these iron strategies they supposedly follow everywhere. Short of gluing your valuables to your nether regions they will be occasionally vulnerable. When I mentioned I had been pick pocketed, most Americans had very similar reactions. “You travel so much, i’m surprised you didn’t do this/have one these etc”. No Fanny pack for me, no taping currency to my inner thigh, etc. Heres the thing. Travel this much and youre going to have some AMAZING experiences that rejuvenate your faith in humanity, and illuminate the human condition. You will also have occasional catastrophes…the key is to take them all in stride. I had written about the beauty and enthralling nature of Madrid shortly before having my wallet stolen there. Notes From Madrid

Did this event change my feelings about the city? Absolutely not. Will I return? I sure as shit will come back. Now here are a few tips to mitigate the suck in the event you are missing your wallet.

1.) Only carry 1-3 cards on you. Bring a few more for backup, but leave those in your luggage. Cash in a separate pocket.

2.) The cards you plan in using, download and setup their mobile apps. This makes locking the card super easy once you discover it’s gone.

3.) Add your cards to your digital wallet. This is KEY. Once you have locked your cards the physical piece of plastic can no longer be used, but the digital one is still good to go.

4.) Don’t take it personally. These are professionals who do this for a living. They didn’t target you because they hate you. You look successful and not local. Congrats. This happens in every city all over the world. As long as you leave the encounter unscathed, you still came out ahead.

5.) Breathe. That cold tingle down your spine? That will fade. This isn’t the end of the world. Citi and Capital One refunded all of the fraudulent purchases and sent me new cards in 48 hours. Don’t let something like this ruin your trip!

Cards are stolen/misplaced all the time. Being prepared for the inevitable is simply part of the game. I’ve been at this just shy of 20 years, and I’ve seen a few places in that time. Finally happened to me, and while I’m still waiting for a new drivers license, things could be MUCH worse. When I noticed my wallet gone I was walking into a restaurant, I sat down, hopped on their WiFi and a few minutes later started getting alerts that my cards were making purchases. I realized what had happened, muttered profanity and locked all of my cards right there from my phone. I made a few calls and enjoyed an extra pint.

What about you? Have you ever been robbed abroad? I’ve heard a colorful spat of stories, please feel free to share in the comments.